4 Simple Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Mountaintop

How often have you set an ambitious goal … but failed to achieve it?

T here’s a good chance that you failed to create the timelines, milestones and deadlines to go along with it.

This Article Could Be About Many Things

Today is one of those occasions when I’m going to let you decide what this article is about.

Is it about resolve, our ability to persevere, to vigorously pursue an idea, uncover its value to our business and set out to relentlessly apply it?

Or, is it about execution, our ability to follow proven processes to implement sustainable change in our business?

Didn’t Mom Teach You to Take Small Steps?

We probably didn’t realize it at the time, but our Moms … and Dads, too … laid the groundwork for this lesson many moons ago.

It started when your Mom got after you about cleaning your room. She may not have explained it this way, but it probably started something like this …

  • “Hang up your jacket”,
  • “Put your shoes in the closet,”
  • “Then, get the toys and books off the floor.”
  • “Then ….

… and so it goes … step by step … maybe over several days … piece by piece … until you could accomplish the bigger goal … a clean room.

Did we need that coaching because we hadn’t resolved to do it in the first place and mom was on to us?

Or … were we so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that we didn’t know how or where to start?

Why aren’t I getting anything done?

[pullquote]The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu[/pullquote]

The other day I listened to a CEO recount a long list of overdue projects and incomplete initiatives that have frustrated her over the last year.

Her most important initiatives had barely moved, and she had made only middling progress on her primary goal.

In short, she saw her major goals and objectives as inspiring images, but of unscalable proportions with no toehold in sight from which to start the climb.

The mountain’s summit seemed so insurmountable, that her team never started the climb because it didn’t seem possible they’d ever get there.

How Can You Get Started?

The key is to identify the relevant timelines, milestones and deadlines associated with our goals. In mountain climbing terms, you start by identifying each of the base camps you’ll reach on your way to the summit, and carefully prepare your plans to ascend to them one at a time.

Once you’ve established that framework, you can develop a game plan to accomplish any goal you’ve set.

4 Simple Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Mountaintop

I’ve outlined 4 Simple Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Mountaintop so you can achieve those elusive “bigger” goals with a bolt of resolve and a boatload of execution.

1. Create a Reasonable Timeframe

It is critical to create a realistic timeline. If you’re trying to squeeze a two-pound sausage into a one-pound casing, it isn’t going to fit.

If the timeframe is too short, you’ll never get it all done. If it’s too long, you’ll never create any momentum and the project will become tedious, boring and uninteresting.

In an extreme case, you can modify the goal deadline, but be sure to resist the temptation to continually extend the deadline simply because you’re falling short of the milestones.

Accelerating between interim steps creates positive energy to accomplish the original goal on time and on budget, and sets clear performance expectations the team needs to be successful.

2. Establish Realistically Achievable Milestones

We’ve all heard the Chinese proverb that every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step … so where do we place that first footprint?

Establish your base camps and Aim ONLY for the first base one. Nothing more.

Don’t stare at the summit. It’s a frustrating target that seems so unreachable. Focus ONLY on the very next base camp and no more. You’ve built a plan you believe in, so intensely focus just on getting to Base Camp 1.

Once you’ve arrived, start to focus on the plan to conquer Base Camp 2.

And so on. Make sure the series of interim milestones you’ve created are realistically achievable and consistent with the completion timetable and deadlines you have set.

The Getting Things Done methodology popularized by David Allen, for example, identifies milestones as the “next physical action” required to complete a project.

Don’t worry about whether there are three milestones or 50 of them.

Tackle them one at a time. Just make sure the milestones are objective, understandable chunks of work that have clear boundaries and bright lines around them so everyone knows when they’re done and when to move to the next encampment.

By creating tangible milestones, you’ll have done the advance planning required to set your organization on the path to success.

3. Bring Along Adequate Resources

Make sure you identify and acquire sufficient resources to get the job done.

They will vary, of course, depending on which milestone you’re seeking, e.g., you’ll probably require more oxygen and warmer clothing as you get closer to the summit.

Be realistic about the required resources and be prepared to adjust those requirements to meet the demands of each successive stage.

[pullquote]Thankfully, perseverance is a good substitute for talent.” ~ Steve Martin[/pullquote]

4. Conduct Regular After Action Reviews

To get started, read The 4 Key Principles of Powerful After Action Reviews which describes a process to make sure you thoroughly, objectively and realistically assess your performance every step of the way, and apply those lessons to the next steps without blame or hesitation.

At every base camp, spend time immediately after you arrive to consider what you learned on your trip. Follow a strict after action review process … and then revisit the plan for the journey to the next base camp and apply what you’ve learned.

You’ll collect a lot of data on the way to each base camp, and gain new insights that inform your course, so adjust your plan accordingly.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to reassess your resources and never hesitate to change your plans to meet new conditions and circumstances.

Summary: 4 Simple Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Mountaintop

Let’s summarize the 4 Simple Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Mountaintop.

After you’ve set a clear and realistic goal,

1. Build base camps along the way to meet milestones.

2. Establish a firm but flexible timeline for each milestone.

3. Apply adequate resources at every stage.

4. Be rigorous about regular and timely After Action Reviews.

Make sure the mountaintop you’re pursuing doesn’t become a mirage.

Take it one base camp at a time.

I’ll see you up there.

Question: What is the most effective tool you have used to ensure that you achieve your goals?

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